Archive for August, 2012

Annie the Labrador


On the fifth of August 2010 we picked up our new foster dog – Annie,  a four-year old Red Fox Labrador who’d been used as a breeding bitch.  A snapped collar saw her disappear into the twilight before we’d even had chance to get her home (Disaster strikes) and so began a two-day roller coaster.

The panic, the despair,  the guilt and worst of all, the agony of wondering what this sweet but terrified girl must be going through to be lost in a strange place but tempered with the humbling kindness of the strangers who helped us find her ( Little (Big) Dog Lost & Breakthrough).

It’s hard to believe that was two years ago. Watching her now, stretched out, paw over nose, twitching in dreamland on the sofa, it’s almost hard to believe that this was the dog so shut down that she refused to even toilet for three days. The dog you could send scuttling under the dining table should you accidentally look her in the eye. The dog so seemingly ‘aggressive’ that she’d erupt at the sight of a dog a football pitch away and who would charge the patio doors on sight of Little Bear or Camden Cat in the garden.

Overcoming fear

Now that the fear isn’t doing quite so much of the talking we’re seeing the real Annie. She loves Little Bear and she and Camden have come to an arrangement based on mutual respect that even extends to polite sniffing. She can still be wary of some people, but will also cheerfully approach complete strangers with a relaxed wag if she likes the look of them.

Her dreams are more peaceful now too. I don’t know what dogs dream of, but I know for sure that they have nightmares. Seeing her run in her sleep, her face contorted as she whimpered and whined was once a regular occurrence.

We’re still working on the on-lead dog to dog reactivity but that’s coming along steadily too. She’ll get there. Just as she learned to let go of the other fears that racked her life, so this, in time will pass too.


I’m not know for my patience, but dogs don’t work to our ridiculous, artificial schedules. Annie will continue to learn and grow in her own time and our job is to help and encourage her along that path. My knees still go a little weak when I see her run because a part of me will never fully get over that fateful first day, but I can’t help wonder whether it didn’t do me a favour.

In losing her I gained a valuable insight – I now know what real fear feels like. We are all so hounded by the imagined fears of our over-active minds that real fear, the type that comes from immediate danger is blessedly rare. Maybe, in order to help her overcome the very real fears she has to face, I just needed to walk a mile in her paws.


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Little Bear

I watched Usain Bolt run the 200 meters last night. I’m not a huge sports fan but for some reason I like watching his races, a contradiction I found myself pondering in the wee small hours.

I think his appeal is his confidence. Not the arrogance and  stiltedness we often see from top sportspeople, but a more genuine, very human level of self-belief that makes people feel like they could still have a beer with him in the pub.

The Little Bear Olympics 

While the race was happening we were having our own track event in the living room with Little Bear. It was more like the four meter scramble than the 200 meter sprint, but he was enjoying his nightly round of chase the tennis ball. Until that is, a mis-placed throw (I did say I’m not much of a sportswoman) landed it behind his toy box.

He knew exactly where it was, but couldn’t reach it. After about 20 seconds of pacing around he tried emptying the toys, but that was swiftly abandoned in favour of short sharp frustrated barks. The equivalent I’m guessing of ‘Help! Somebody get my ball for me!’

I told OH that I wanted him to figure it out for himself and so we encouraged him, praised every paw in the right direction, fell silent as he woofed his frustration and waited for him to figure it out. After about three minutes, which must feel like a lifetime to a frustrated dog, he had tried a number of different techniques: standing in the basket so that he could reach the ball behind it; emptying more toys onto the floor; tipping the basket up with his paw and then finally, approaching from the side and moving the basket with his nose which (Hoorah!) revealed the tennis ball!

Bear goes for gold

Well he couldn’t have looked more pleased with himself if he had just won gold in the 200 meters. The crowd, i.e. me, OH and Annie went wild. To cheers, claps and whoops of ‘clever boy’ Little Bear swaggered and pranced about the place grumbling his happy growl and wagging for all he was worth. He did three laps of honour around the living room before sitting down in front of me on the sofa still all of a wag for a post event interview (“You worked hard out there Little Bear, was there ever a point that you felt the goal was out of reach?”) and of course, a ear rub.

Encourage failure

Little Bear ‘failed’ to get it right a number of times last night and at any point, had we stepped in to help, we would have deprived him of that glorious flush of victory that he so obviously enjoyed when he succeeded. It was a reminder that failure is a very necessary part of success and something we should celebrate and encourage.

It wasn’t getting the ball that helped boost his confidence, it was the fact that he figured it out all by himself, trying and failing a few times but getting there in the end by using his head and his heart and persevering.

Just like pro-athletes, dogs need self-belief. They need to know that we’re there to support them, in their failures as well as their successes and that we’ll be there to cheer them on no matter what.  Who said sport had nothing to do with dog behaviour? 😉


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Little Bear the Mini Schnauzer

Little Bear

I’m thinking of writing a stiff letter to Life.  I think I’ve been incredibly tolerant up until now but something really has to be said about the way it relentlessly interrupts my training plans. And please, don’t even get me started on its effect on my blogging schedule…

I’m joking of course, but it’s a nice thought isn’t it?  ‘Excuse me Life, but can you just butt out for a while? I have dogs to train. We’re on a schedule you know.’

Curve ball

My mother was taken suddenly and critically ill recently and in the space of one phone call everything changed. Life jumped on us from a great height and we had no choice but to let it.  Thankfully she made a remarkable recovery and when I returned home nearly two weeks later, (to a thorough telling off by Little Bear and what I can only describe as a giggle dance from Annie) the dogs and I picked up where we left off.


I’ve used Churchill’s famous quote about ‘never ever giving up’ many a time and it’s still something that inspires me and spurs me on when I’m tired and down-hearted. I’ll never stop striving for the best for my dogs, but I am willing to give up on something – the idea that I have to do it all perfectly and that if I don’t, then I’m somehow letting them down.

If you have a reactive dog, let alone two, you know what hard work they can be.  The dream is something most other dog owners take for granted; a quiet stroll in the park, a coffee at a pavement cafe without it causing a scene. It’s not a big dream but getting there takes a lot of work.

Little Bear and Annie have come such a long way. The work is working and we will persist, but I’m going to tear up that draft letter and tell Life that it’s okay. I understand. It has to do its thing and that’s fine. Whatever it throws at us, well, we’re just going to work around it.


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